Wednesday, September 30, 2020
  The Industry Blueprint  

The new-age home technology professional is more than just ‘The A/V Guy’ - they are the cornerstone of advice for lighting, audio, video, security, networking, and, most recently, interior design.

For better or for worse, it’s becoming an essential function for the integrator to know what products help tie an aesthetic together, and which will disrupt the whole flow of a home. Knowing when to coordinate or contrast furniture, being cognizant of where artwork will be displayed, and knowing how to balance an aesthetic with color are just a few of the self-learned tricks that integrators have picked up on as they spend more time with designers and specifiers in new construction.

But much like any new initiative, momentum starts from prominent industry pioneers. Many manufacturers, integrator firms, and buying groups have begun to advance the conversation around these trends, but the inertia generated through the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) has produced a new level of awareness to the custom integration ecosystem.

  A Refined Scope  

Founded in 1989 by a handful of passionate integrators, CEDIA has long been a stalwart of the custom integration world. The association has continued to be the crux of hundreds upon hundreds of education hours, and thought-leadership from every corner of the custom industry for integrators, as their role with a client matures and requires more responsibilities. This dedication represents the combined effort of 3,700 member companies globally and 30,000 industry professionals that manufacture, design, and integrate goods and services for the connected home.

And as a recently named Global President and CEO for CEDIA, Tabatha O’Connor is making sure that every aspect of the organization continues to embrace that vision.

“I think that as the industry progresses and technology in the home progresses, we’re seeing that interior designers, architects, and builders are recognizing this industry but in a different way than they did years ago,” O’Connor said. “And I see it as our responsibility to connect those organizational members to our members. We’ve had great long-standing relationships with industry partner associations and our focus now is to connect member to member.”

“We as a team, as a board, as a staff understand that engaging with architects, builders, and interior designers, in that engagement, has definitely become a part of our mission,” she added.

O’Connor points to many of the changing approaches at CEDIA as items that have been carefully assembled over the past 18 months between members of the association’s board and principal voices in the custom integration community. What materialized after the year-and-a-half of careful planning was a three-year plan that did not necessarily bring new ideas to the table as much as it underscored the significance of forging a relationship with industry partners.

And what CEDIA has quickly recognized is that success in a new era of home ownership means equipping their members with the tools to be more than just a technology authority - it means educating parallel industries and consumers on the opportunities their members can offer.

“Our role is to make the introduction, make sure that our members have an opportunity to earn the business,” said Cris Pyle, Vice President, Marketing, and Industry Relations at CEDIA. “For the industry at large, we’re giving them professional installation, so consumers are happier. The designers and builders that are choosing to work with CEDIA members are happy. If in three years from now we’ve been successful, that’s what our three-year plan looks like.”

  A Change of Pace  

O ne of CEDIA’s first moves to establish just how serious they are about their mission led to the London doorstep of Giles Sutton.

Sutton has spent many years with CEDIA, volunteering his time as a member on a number of different advisory councils, boards, and instructor programs. And looking at his body of work, those elections come for obvious reasons. His 12-year-old business, James + Giles, has become renowned by his peers for their architect-first approach. That model dramatically shifted his focus to working with other professionals outside his industry and being recognized as an organization that can fill needs outside of their designation.

“We wanted to work with other professionals, we wanted to be seen on the same level as architects and designers because we do as professional a job as they do, and we added value to the whole design process,” Sutton said. “We felt that this way of changing the business would make sure that we are at the top of the food chain, so right at the start we were being brought to the table by the right people.”

Sutton’s role is officially noted as Senior Vice President of Industry Engagement. On a large scale, it will be Sutton’s responsibility to begin bridging the gaps between the many associations and organizations that interact with CEDIA members every day. That means courting the American Institute of Architects, the National Kitchen & Bath Association, and the American Society of Interior Designers among other influencers in the space. And while those relationships exist with various formalities, there are still disconnects that are hindering the success of the industry as a whole.

“Unfortunately there is a past perception of our industry as just the ‘AV guys.’ I just think there’s a lack of awareness still amongst the community. I’m struck by it all the time,” Sutton said. “I’ve met with associations that tell me most of their members still didn’t know actually how to work with CEDIA members... So there’s still education needed on both sides, which is why I see this as really powerful.”

Sutton’s wisdom is a real breath of fresh air for the industry. His open dialogue about the issues facing the many sides of the industries at large reveals that success comes from engagement and attitude – but it is a burden that is carried by all. He believes that engagement among peers, regardless of industry, is at an all-time high, thanks to the many forms of media and the way we transmit information. But it is the responsibility of both associations and individual members to engage with one another actively to build an understanding of all the benefits they bring to a project.

“There seems to be a language barrier; I think it is an interesting way of putting it because I think it carries across as well as the way the integrators market themselves,” Sutton said. “We are fantastic at interacting with one another on Twitter, on tech forums, blogs; we are great at industry dialogue. But when it comes to actually engaging externally, we’re pretty poor.

“We need to empower members to be able to market themselves properly, to actually engage with influencers because architects and designers are visual people. And as I say, there is definitely a learning curve,” he added.

  A United Future  

A longside the internal focus to engage on an educational course for their members, CEDIA Expo will host a handful of designers and specifiers at their inaugural Design Connection pavilion.

However, the lighting of this torch represents more than just a chance to tangibly represent their new initiatives; it gives the most influential and prominent members of the custom integration industry an opportunity to connect with influencers who understand the importance of a connected industry.

“It’s a beautiful connection to the strategy of the organization,” said O’Connor. “It’s that engagement piece for architects, builders, interior designers and bringing them to the show, allowing them to understand what the manufacturers and exhibitors are doing for the industry. It’s just a unique opportunity to bring everybody together at one time.”

That level of exposure is essential, as it becomes a starting point for more than just the immediate members. The message being broadcasted goes beyond the show floor as the awareness built will rebuild the industry from the inside out.

“It just goes to show that there was a void that needed filling and the opportunity that exists from linking the traditional integration channel with architects, builders, and designers,” Sutton said. “CEDIA has a way of getting people in front of influencers, and a lot of these offerings just need to be realigned a little bit.”

“The pieces of the puzzle are here, it just needs to be put together in a way that is meaningful to the members.”